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A City experience: The CCEFR in Montreuil-sous-Bois

 
 
In February 2003, Jean-Pierre Brard, deputy and mayor of the city of Montreuil, the fourth city of the Parisian suburb, inaugurated the « Religious Fact Study and Civic Centre », the "CCEFR".

The idea of creating the "CCEFR", an association governed by the law of 1901, was put forward by the Professor Mohammed Arkoun, a specialist in the history of Islamic thinking and member of the commission in charge of the report on secularism. The scientist had met the politician, Jean-Pierre Brard, on several occasions and particularly at a conference on the topic of the « Knowing of Islam » organized in 1992 by the city of Montreuil where the scientist was invited to lecture.

The scholar, Mohammed Arkoun, thinking that the construction of a mosque could not take part in the integration of the Moslem populations, suggested Jean-Pierre Brard that it was necessary to give people, in parallel, the possibility of knowing religions from a critical point of view so that they could accept each other and thus be able to « Live Together ».

The principle of the "CCEFR" was born and was included in 2001 in a local and public policy file aiming at global management of the worships in a complete equity.

This local policy plan is composed of several elements:
- obligation of Moslem and Jewish associations to federate in an association of law 1905
- the construction of a mosque
- the construction of a synagogue
- the creation of a Moslem cemetery
- inter-religious meetings between the representatives of the various communities and the Mayor
- and the creation of the "CCEFR"

The last element had to be a means of spreading an educational activity around the religious fact, on two levels, while respecting Secularity. On the one hand, conferences in the form of debates are proposed to a large audience. On the other hand, thematic cycles of courses, initially intended for teachers, present a comparative approach of the monotheist religions. All interventions take place in the Town-hall and not in the associations' premises.

To organize these meetings, the "CCEFR" was composed of three types of people: political, scientific and civil:
- Jean-Pierre Brard, relayed by a person « in charge of religious fact », paid by the Town-hall, and whose job is to provide the logistics help of the association's activities.
- A scientific counsel, presided by Mr Arkoun, regroups eight scholars « wishing to serve the City », specialized in diverse disciplines relating to religions. This entity agrees on the topics on which they are sometimes speakers themselves.
- A committee, composed by five benevolent people, is in charge of management.

In 2003, the association was completely subsidized by the City. Now, it benefits from other financing sources: receipts collected from courses, from partnerships undertaken with other cities, from lessons about the « Religious Fact » ordered by the IUFM of the city of Créteil and a subsidy granted by the General Counsel of the department 93 (Seine-Saint-Denis). However, the city always provides the main part of the "CCEFR" financing, which raises perhaps the question of the neutrality of the local public authority in the field of the management of the questions concerning worships.

This creation could be presented as an « experimental » project in the sense that the municipality acts as its instigator and places the "CCEFR" on the same level as other civil associations benefiting from public subsidies. The use of the religious field in the local public strategy for the purpose of social meditation is not new, but it is the form that this approach is taking, which seems to be innovative.

After this succinct presentation and three years of activity, which assessment can be drawn from this experiment?

First of all, the first objectives of public in term of targets to be reached present a lot of difficulties for the moment: the courses are attended by around ten peoples, mainly composed of non-working people and students; the conferences do not have the same success anymore: from an audience of two hundred listeners estimated in 2003 only around fifty remain, mainly retired people. However, thanks to the presence of the academic people, the City provides punctual teaching in schools and training intended for civil servants.

If the « Scholar » and the « Politician » have come together, the institutionalization of the "CCEFR" perhaps slowed down the encounter with the public.

The "CCEFR" illustrates the difficulty of the local authorities to initiate a dialogue with marginalized populations concerned with the social and political development of the « Living Together ». Are academics « wishing to serve the City » ready to go in the districts to meet the population « in vivo »?

Where, how, with who, on which topics? Such are the outstanding questions...

How do we really create opportunities to discuss every day life subjects in relation with religious fact, and thus register the "CCEFR" in the social reality ?

This association is still at its infancy and has created, by a series of experiments, a « fertile soil » ready to be exploited. What the municipality and all the local actors decide to do in order to improve the "CCEFR" remains to be seen.



* Note: Site Web du CCEFR, www.ccefr.org, page d’accueil, Edito.2003

Edwige Dassonville architecte DPLG titulaire d’un DEA de Sociologie Politique, ENS,
Revue « Pouvoirs locaux », les Cahiers de la Décentralisation, N°69 II, Mai 2006- p.120
 
 

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